Your source for business and chamber news in the Greater Kingston Area May 27, 2013
Vol. 2 NO. 5
Federal immigration changes impact local businesses By Bill Hutchins
Immigrants built this nation, from the railways and roads to the small businesses. But in the Canada of the 21st century, it seems, immigrants face more regulations than ever to get into the country, and the workforce. Some local companies in need of skilled help complain the labour pool is simply not broad enough to meet their needs. Recent federal immigration changes will have an impact on local businesses that are looking to recruit the global talent they need to succeed, according to Kingston Immigration Partnership (KIP). “It seems like the Feds are looking at every immigration rule and tightening the rules,” said Scott Clerk, project manager at KIP, an organization that coordinates efforts to make Kingston attractive and inclusive to immigrants. However, Clerk says it remains unclear whether those new rules will help or hinder local companies, especially those in search of specific skills. Whereas 19th century Canada may have re-
quired people with the skills and stamina to hammer spikes into a rail line, today’s labour needs may involve designing a web portal to market the rail company. “There is lots of great talent lining up to come to Canada. Lots of needs here. But it’s a balancing act,” he explained of the federal changes that aim to balance the needs of companies looking for help versus the government’s Canadians-first employment strategy. Canada remains a beacon for immigrants and their families, attracting as many as 280,000 newcomers every year. But the rules to get into the country to live and work have changed substantially in recent months; partly due to abuse and partly because of the Conservative government’s desire to give Canadians first crack at the job market. The temporary foreign worker program, for example, was recently tightened to prevent Canadian companies from using cheap labour at the expense of Canadians looking for work. Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced a crackdown after it was revealed that RBC, Canada’s largest bank, was caught replacing an entire department using the temporary foreign workers program. Newly hired workers from India, who managed to get work visas, could be paid up to 15-percent less than the prevailing wage in a job classification. Kenney said the temporary foreign worker program is meant to fill a need that the existing labour market can’t fill, but there will be more fees and regulations to use the program, and
the 15-percent wage reduction allowance will be scrapped. Clerk says the RBC case shatters old stereotypes of foreign workers. “It used to be viewed as immigrants doing the jobs Canadians wouldn’t do, like picking fruit. It’s really not like that anymore.” He says another misconception is that most new Canadians are readily employed. “The unemployment rate among immigrants is double the amount of the Canadian-born population.” There are many cases where companies require skilled jobs, but finding the right candidate with the right skills can be difficult. Another challenge is deciding whether only immigrants can fill the needs of employers instead of natural-born Canadians. “One of the challenges we have is identifying the nature of the skills shortage? Who are we short of, when there are thousands of people seeking work?” said Mark Hanley, manager of the entrepreneur centre at KEDCO, the city’s economic development agency. Hanley says there are some identifiable positions, like welding, where the shortage is obvious. Clerk says some immigration changes are “quite promising” for local businesses; allowing international students to fast-track to permanent residency, and entrepreneur visas to attract hightech talent with a business idea and the backing of investors. Despite the changes, Kingston still struggles to expand its base of newcomers. Census data from 2011 shows a dip in the number of immigrants settling in Kingston. It’s a similar story across the province. “In Ontario, immigration rates are definitely trending down. It’s all about the west,” Clerk explained. “The prairies are attracting more immigrants because that’s where a lot of the jobs are. Of course, Kingston is going to feel that.” KIP, the City of Kingston and KEDCO are currently developing a specific immigration strategy to market the city Mark Hanley to immigrants and highlight the work Manager, Entre- opportunities. The strategy includes preneur Centre, travelling to job fairs in Toronto to marKEDCO ket Kingston to job seeking immigrants.
Photo courtesy of Diana Tovilla for Kingston Immigration Partnership “It’s probably too early to say if it’s working. Immigrant attraction is a long game that’s tied to demographics,” Clerk added. KEDCO also established a website (www.kingstonishiring.com) to help local businesses with specific needs connect with potential employees who have those skills. Stantive Technologies Group, a business technology solution company that delivers enterprise portals, social intranets and corporate websites to its cli-
ents, had seven job vacancies listed on the site, from technology support specialist to project manager. Clearly, some local businesses are struggling to fill positions. Experts say immigration policies are meant to complement the existing labour pool, but it’s certainly a more complicated process than in the early days of Canada’s growth when all you needed was a few bucks in your pocket to come here.